Fandom: American Idol S8
Pairing: Kris Allen/Adam Lambert
Genre: Action, Suspense
Word Count: 9,800
Disclaimer: No infringements on the rights of real people intended. Not profiting in any way.
Notes: Written for the kradamreversebb Big Bang for highdreams' badass art prompt. Beta by cinaea. See highdream's art masterpost for more art for this story!
Summary: Detective Kris Allen is working undercover in a smuggling ring on the U.S.-Mexican border when he discovers a prisoner in the compound. And he only has one night—and one gun—to get them both out alive.
Dust rose up to greet him when he hopped out of the van, heat and grime slipping under his clothes to welcome him home. Kris blinked eyes already gritty from the ten-hour drive and squinted against the sunset over the farmhouse. The old place looked the same as always: arid, isolated, and anything but welcoming.
He slapped at the gravel dust collecting on his jeans and turned back to pull the GPS tracker from the dashboard mount.
"S'up?" Mark called from his sprawl on the porch bench, long legs threaded through the railing to let the faint breeze cool his ankles.
"Nothin'," Kris drawled, slamming the van door shut. "How 'bout you?"
"Not much," Mark smiled back. "You look like shit."
"And you look like you've been sittin' on your ass all day."
"So what if I have? What're you gonna do about it?"
Kris was about to threaten Mark's favorite hat when he noticed the new guy sulking down the far end of the wrap-around porch, nursing a nasty black eye and a bottle of Mexican beer. "Hey, what happened to Jimmy?"
"Ah, you know Jimmy—always lookin' for trouble."
"Looks like he found some."
Mark shrugged and brought the burning cigarette close to his skin for a long, hot drag. "All I know is, he doesn't leave the porch." Kris spotted the gun lying ready on the bench next to Mark's thigh and raised his eyebrows. "You can ask Alvarez," Mark suggested, "but I'm staying out of it."
"Alright." Kris sauntered up the steps and nodded toward Jimmy, just to be neighborly, before he pulled open the screen door. Hector and Sal were sweating in the living room, and he passed Balo in the corridor, pressed himself against the wall to give the larger man room to squeeze past. He stripped off his rumpled, smelly shirt and tossed it in the laundry room before finally finding his way to the kitchen.
Alvarez was seated at the long oak table, a bottle of beer pressed to the side of his neck. "Kris, welcome back. Good trip?" the enforcer rumbled, his deep voice barely disturbing the still, heated air.
Kris fought back a shiver, played it off as a yawn and a stretch. Alvarez didn't like the guys who got twitchy around him. "Nothin' to it." He laid his car keys, tracker, and phone on the table.
Alvarez grunted and gave him one of his fond looks, the kind that said he would slit Kris's throat in a second, but would probably feel bad about it for a few days. "You're a good driver," he said, and Kris looked away at the unexpected compliment.
He tugged the fridge door open, got out his own bottle. "You're only saying that 'cause I can read a map."
Alvarez chuckled. And then he reached for Kris's phone to begin his inspection. "No problems in Dallas?"
Kris pulled out the chair next to Alvarez, putting himself in the big man's reach. "They tried to hire me again."
Alvarez smiled as he scrolled through the phone. "Now you're just startin' shit."
Kris grinned and kicked his feet up, made his gaze drift away from the things he wasn't supposed to pay attention to, like the blue journal Alvarez recorded the delivery runs in, the gun holstered under Alvarez's heavily-muscled shoulder, the drop of condensation rolling ever-so-slowly down the tanned skin of Alvarez's chest. He'd spent months looking away from those little details, filing them away for his reports or his bunk at night.
A few seconds later, Alvarez snapped the phone shut and moved on to the tracker.
"So what happened to Jimmy?" Kris asked.
That went without saying.
Alvarez's fingers worked the buttons, checking over the details of Kris's two-day trip. Kris tried not to remember that Alvarez had broken three of Mark's ribs for speeding on the Albuquerque run last February. In this very chair.
"What'd he do?" he made himself ask.
"Why you wanna know?" Alvarez shot back, the chair creaking as he shifted his weight.
"I gotta live with the guy, don't I? I'd rather hear the real story before he starts whining."
"Might not be living with you for much longer...."
Kris didn't like the sound of that. He kept his mouth shut and waited.
Alvarez finally glanced up at Kris, brown eyes flashing. "He says he was dealing behind the Walmart when this real suspicious hombre comes up looking to buy half a kilo. According to Jimmy," he sneered, his accent rasping on the J, "the guy smelled like a cop. So Jimmy and Balo jump him and bring him back here. Because here is where we want to bring cops."
"A cop?" Kris blurted, his spine suddenly straightening, his feet hitting the floor. "He brought a cop here?"
"Who knows. Carson's checking him out now. Maybe Jimmy fucked up, maybe he was right; either way, you do not bring problems back here. Jimmy knew better."
A cop on the farm meant trouble—big trouble—for everybody. "If he's a cop…" he started, voice pitched low and urgent.
"If," Alvarez agreed. "We don't know yet. But Jimmy's real eager to find out. And so am I."
If he turned out to be a cop, they'd kill him. (And probably Jimmy, too, but he wasn't Kris's top priority.) Kris's Glock was a warm, steadying weight in the back of his jeans, tucked up under his t-shirt. He glanced past Alvarez's holster again—twelve in the clip, one in the chamber—and looked around the rest of the kitchen, mentally reviewing his exit options.
"They're using the guest house. Sorry." Alvarez offered a sympathetic grimace.
Kris craned his neck to see the guest house out the furthest window. The small porch looked empty. "Is Carson gonna mind if I'm over there?"
Alvarez shrugged. "That probably depends how it's goin', don't it?"
"Yeah," Kris said, nodding slowly. He dropped his hand to hang loose at his side, that much closer to the small of his back.
Alvarez grunted twice before switching off the tracker and scraping his chair away from the table, repeating, "You're a good driver." He gave Kris a friendly pat on the shoulder before taking away the phone, GPS, and car keys to lock in the safe. "Chili's on the stove if you're hungry."
"I'll go wash up," Kris said, rising.
"If you're goin' over there, make sure you check in with Carson," Alvarez cautioned.
Kris waited until Alvarez was out of sight in Carson's office before relaxing his guard. He waved to the guys lounging in the living room, and to Mark and Jimmy outside, and headed toward the guest house, beer in hand.
He kept his gait slow; he was exhausted and disinterested, no reason to go hurrying over there, after all. Casual as you please, he reached behind him to scratch at his lower back, getting his t-shirt out of the way.
No curtains twitched as he approached the two-story guest house, and nobody came out to warn him off. He set one foot on the old porch step and paused, listening past the crescendoing buzz of the cicadas for signs of what was happening inside. He could make out a man's voice, but not the words. Sweat trickled down between his shoulder blades, making the skin of his back prickle as though watched by invisible eyes. Kris glanced over his shoulder, but the main house was too far away to tell if Jimmy or Mark were watching him.
He opened the squeaky screen door before tucking his right hand in his back pocket. "Anybody home?"
The talking stopped, and the door to the parlor opened. "Kris, hey," Tomas said, his broad shoulders filling most of the doorway.
"Hey," Kris said, sliding his hand up until his knuckles brushed the grip of his gun. "Alvarez said I should check with Carson before heading upstairs. S'cool?"
Tomas looked over his shoulder and took a step back to let their boss decide.
Kris tried to see as much as possible with only one scan of the room. A stranger with black hair was tied to a chair in the middle of the room, his head hanging down, whispering—no, whimpering—something he couldn't make out. Tomas had a taser in his right hand, and Carson was pacing and rubbing fingers over his mouth, which was never a good sign.
Kris looked to his boss for permission, keeping his shoulders loose and relaxed.
"Fine by me," Carson drawled. "We might be a tad noisy, though."
A floorboard creaked, and Kris's eyes darted to the side to see Willy lounging in the shadow of the kitchen doorway at the end of the hall.
"I'll be outta here in a minute," Kris promised, his hand falling away from his gun. He smiled and turned his back, heading up the stairs quickly.
Once he was in the room he shared with Jimmy, Kris locked the door and leaned his back against the wall, ordering his speeding heartbeat to slow down.
The cop— Kris had never seen him before. He wasn't in the El Paso PD, or at least hadn't been when Kris reported there. Odds were good he wouldn't know Kris, not enough to go pointing him out to Carson in exchange for his life. But what if he'd heard about the Stash House Initiative's operation? What if he knew just enough to tip Carson off that someone on his payroll was a cop?
Or what if Carson and Alvarez had it wrong? What if he was just some unlucky guy looking to score? Kris pictured the scene in the parlor again and winced. The guy hadn't been wearing a blindfold, and nobody had a mask on. There was no way that guy would be leaving the farm alive.
A scream pierced through the floorboards directly under him, and Kris's hand clenched into a fist. Three guys downstairs—way too many to eliminate quietly. There was nothing he could do but play the loyal employee…and hope the guy was interesting enough, or smart enough, to keep from getting killed before Kris found an opening.
Hurrying to make up time, Kris stripped off his dirty t-shirt and turned the cold water tap in his bathroom, dumped the beer down the drain, and wiped his face and shoulders down with a washcloth. All the while, his right hand never strayed far from the gun at the small of his back.
After just four hands of poker, Kris yawned and excused himself.
He returned to the guest house, eyeing the lit windows of the parlor glowing in the otherwise dark building. There'd been no word from Carson, Tomas, or Willy all evening, and Kris wondered how the hell it could still be going on—how the guy could still be alive in there. He paused in the first floor hallway until he heard the sound of flesh striking flesh. Relieved, he knocked on the parlor door.
Willy opened it this time, and Kris kept from looking directly at Carson's hand in the background, poised to slap the prisoner again. "S'up?" Willy said.
There was no sign of Tomas. Kris could handle just the two of them, if he got one of them to leave the parlor with him. Quick and quiet, with no one in the main house the wiser.
"I'm clocking off. Keep it down, huh?" Kris asked, a serious expression on his face.
Willy rolled his eyes. "Yeah, lemme tell Carson you're layin' down the law, here."
Kris grinned and slapped Willy's shoulder, chancing a closer look around the parlor. A body was sacked out on the couch, hat over his face.
So much for that idea. He bit back his curse and kept smiling, tipping his head respectfully to his boss before heading upstairs.
Just a little longer, Kris prayed, his hands folded in his lap as he sat in the darkness. Below him, two sets of footsteps circled and paced, interspersed with the occasional shouted question. From the words Kris could make out, it sounded like Carson didn't believe whatever answers he'd gotten. The guy was certainly talking plenty—had been talking as long as Kris had been waiting. If he listened closely, he could even make out the choked voice pleading for mercy. But Kris had stopped listening closely about an hour ago, his stomach sickened by the thought that a fellow officer was going through that while he did nothing.
It couldn't last much longer, Kris told himself. Another hour or two, and this whole assignment would be over, one way or another. He hadn't found enough information yet to identify Carson's connection inside Fort Bliss, and the DA would probably be pressured into making a deal with the smuggler to get it, but that wasn't Kris's problem anymore. His job now was to get out alive, and hopefully save another cop while he was at it. He really hoped he'd be taking a living, breathing ally with him.
Kris ran his finger over the trigger and waited, the long sleeves of his shirt pushed up to let his skin breathe. If he didn't move too much, he could almost keep from sweating.
Sometime around midnight he heard the screen door squeak and slam. Voices floated up through the open window, and he shifted carefully to peer through the curtains. Carson and Tomas were heading toward the farmhouse, their backs lit as Carson waved his arms—another sign of his temper. Kris looked further ahead, into the darkness between the two buildings, but there was no sign of Willy.
And then he heard footsteps on the stairs.
He grabbed his thin pillow and wrapped it over his gun, squared his shoulders toward the door, and aimed carefully. The heavy treads reached the second floor landing, and Kris's grip tightened. He'd half-expected this. The only surprise was that Carson had sent Willy, not Alvarez.
Kris concentrated all his attention on his hearing, caught the screen door of the main house slam shut in the distance, one of the stray dogs barking even further away. Willy had an old .38 revolver; he was always spinning it when he was bored, unloading and reloading it, rattling the bullets in his fist. The hall was silent for a long moment, and Kris wondered if Willy was having second thoughts, if he could actually follow through on the order to kill Kris.
And then the footsteps came again, soft, stealthy, and stopped right outside his door. Kris pictured Willy's scarred hands rattling his rounds and held his breath.
Kris let out his breath and took another, adjusting his sweaty grip.
Willy knocked louder. "Heya, Kris?" he called.
"What is it?" Kris said, slurring like he'd been sleeping.
"You gotta get up. Carson wants everyone in the main house."
"What? What the hell time is it?"
"Look, I'm real sorry, but we're havin' a meetin'. Now."
"Damn it, gimme a few," Kris growled, backing off the trigger. Damn, he mouthed the word to the moonlight. Damn, damn, damn.
"Sure," Willy said, and then the footsteps retreated, thumping down the hall and down the stairs.
Kris craned his head toward the window, afraid to move his feet for fear of betraying himself with a scraped boot heel until he saw Willy's shadow, and then Willy himself, moving away from the house. And then he sprang into action.
He flicked on his lamp, dragged the sheets around so the bed looked slept in, and stripped off his dark shirt for a more sleep-appropriate tank top. He crept out to check the second bedroom. Hector and Burt's room was empty, and when he checked the downstairs kitchen and back porch, those were empty, too. That only left the parlor.
Kris twisted the doorknob and eased the parlor door open, Glock out and ready as he blinked his eyes against the light from the two lamps. "You guys know there's a meeting, right?" he called.
The figure in the chair jerked at his words, but no one answered. Kris pushed the door all the way open, took three steps in, and spun around to check behind the door. The room was empty; the house was empty. Nobody home but a couple of cops.
The gun went back into his jeans, and Kris flicked open his knife. Black-haired guy's head snapped up at that. Big, wet eyes watched him, and Kris would swear under oath those were the bluest eyes he'd ever seen.
Bloody lips opened and shut once before whispering, "Please, please don't."
"I'm not gonna kill you," Kris said, giving his most reassuring smile. It didn't have any effect—the guy didn't look away from the knife. Kris sighed; he had about five minutes tops before Carson started wondering where he was. There wasn't any time for pleasantries.
He stepped behind the guy and knelt down, started sawing at the ropes.
"Please, I really, really don't wanna die," he begged again.
"I'm not gonna kill you, Jesus. I'm getting you out of here."
The guy just whimpered.
"What's your name?" Kris asked.
"Which department are you with, Adam?"
"I've already told you: Call Dominguez! Check my fucking MySpace! I'm not a cop!" he sobbed.
Kris hooked his hands in the three layers of frayed cords and gave a hard yank, snapping the stubborn ropes. "Well, that sucks," he announced, pushing the guy out of the chair, "because I am."
Adam staggered and then spun around, eyes wide. "What?" He took a step backward and his legs gave out, dumping him on his ass.
With Adam at eye level, Kris got a good look at his face and winced at the dried blood down the right side, the black eye and split lip. Still, the damage was a lot milder than he'd expected. In fact, some of the dark coloring under his eyes had probably been eyeliner at some point.
"I'm a cop," he repeated, getting his feet under him and scooping Adam up by the armpits, hoisting him onto the couch. "And I'm really praying you are, too, 'cause I'm gonna need your help, here. So if you're just lying to protect your ass, now's the time to come clean."
"What?" Adam blurted again. "I mean, thank you? Oh god, oh thank god," his face crumpled and he clutched at Kris's arm like a lifeline.
Kris shook Adam's hands loose and moved over to the window, giving a quick glance to make sure Carson hadn't sent anybody over to finish off his prisoner. "Can you walk?"
"Are you kidding? You're a cop; if you want, I can fly."
Kris blinked. Had he actually…. Incredulous, he turned around and caught Adam giving him a weak smile. The poor guy was running big hands up and down his thighs, squeezing the tight denim.
Kris didn't watch, didn't notice it because there wasn't time to notice. "I'm serious," he reminded Adam—and himself while he was at it.
Adam's smile fell. "I think so?"
"Well, let's start with standing." Kris drew the curtains closed again and marched back over to the couch, caught Adam's wrist and tugged him up. And up. Christ, the guy was tall. Adam rocked against Kris's chest, and Kris helped him catch his balance before taking a step back and looking him over for serious injuries.
Adam winced and shifted his weight before nodding, "I'm good. They're just waking up. Just give me a minute and I'll be good as new."
"Thank god." Kris looked around the room and spotted a leather jacket he didn't recognize. "That yours?"
The temperature was still over 90 degrees, but Adam's light skin would stick out like a neon 'escaped prisoner' sign in the moonlight. Kris picked the jacket up off the floor and tossed it to him. "Put it on—you've gotta cover your arms."
Adam looked confused but did as he was told. When he reached up, his t-shirt sleeves shifted, exposing red electrical burns up the back of both arms. Which Kris definitely didn't have time to think about.
"How far's your car?" Adam asked, surprising Kris out of the glare he'd been directing at Adam's injuries.
Kris shook his head. "No car."
"You have to run."
"I can run," Adam agreed, and then paused. "Why don't you have a car?"
"I just don't," Kris said, because a discussion of Carson's many neuroses wasn't going to be useful at the moment.
"That doesn't make sense. If this is a rescue, there should be a car." Adam's eyes narrowed and he took a step away from Kris.
Great, apparently Carson wasn't the only paranoid man in El Paso. "I wasn't planning on rescuing anybody tonight. If you'd called ahead, I might've been a little more prepared," he huffed. "There is no car. Can we move on? That's the main house," he pointed out the front window impatiently. "Hopefully, all the men with guns are already in there. When I leave, I want you to wait a few minutes and go out the back door."
"Wait," Adam frowned.
"The interstate is that way," Kris pointed to the east. "You run that way across the fields until you see it, and then you follow it north. Do not go near that highway. When they come looking for you, they'll be driving one of—"
"Wait, you're not coming with me?"
Kris scowled at the wrench Carson's impromptu meeting had thrown in his plan. "They're expecting me in the main house. If I don't show, they're gonna know something's up."
"Wait," Adam pushed at the bangs matted in the dried blood on his forehead, "you're not—"
"There's no time," Kris interrupted. "You're getting outta here on your own. You'll make a left at the interstate and run about three miles to the state line rest stop. You find a phone…. What?"
Adam was shaking his head violently. "No, no way, I'm not going out there alone!"
"You are," Kris said firmly. "It's the only way out. I'll keep them distracted, buy you as much time as I can. But you have to get yourself to that rest stop on your own."
"But they have guns. I'm not gonna be target practice for a posse of coke dealers with guns! I've seen Mad Max, and I don't wanna get gunned down in the desert like a fucking jackrabbit. You have to come with me!"
Kris pressed his lips together in frustration. He had to get Adam moving, but the guy was too spooked to save himself. And there wasn't a whole lot Kris could do to allay his fear, short of….
"What are you doing here?" Kris asked, dreading the answer.
"They kidnapped me—"
"No, why were you meeting with Jimmy in the first place?"
"Oh. I was…I was trying to buy some coke. Do you wanna arrest me? 'Cause that's okay, I'd choose jail over death," Adam blurted, holding his wrists together as if expecting handcuffs to magically appear in Kris's hands.
It was just his luck to be throwing six months of undercover work down the drain to save a hapless addict. "Are you a dealer?" he asked. He didn't get that vibe from Adam, but he couldn't afford to assume wrong.
"No, no, it's for me and my band, that's all. Um, personal use. And I promise I'll never touch the stuff again. I've been scared straight, or something."
Kris stared him down, watching Adam shift nervously until he was satisfied the guy was telling the truth. "Okay," Kris said, committing to what was surely a terrible plan. He pulled his gun out and began to explain, "I'm gonna give you—"
Adam almost fell over again, he backed up so fast.
Kris put up his empty hand. "Relax! I'm not gonna shoot you, I'm giving you my gun!"
Adam hit the wall and put his hands up. "What? No—"
"Adam, I'm giving you my gun, and I'm trusting you to get yourself out of here."
"I can't fucking—"
Kris stomped across the room, grabbed Adam's right hand, and pressed the butt of his Glock into it.
Adam flinched, gaping down at the object in his hand. "I'm not a cop," he protested.
"Yeah, I know; you're a god damn recreational drug user who I shouldn't be trusting with my weapon, let alone my life. Now watch." Kris grabbed Adam's other hand and positioned them both around the semi-automatic. "You hold it like this, aim like this, pull the trigger like this. It's not hard."
"Holy shit," Adam breathed, staring down at the weapon in their joined hands. "Holy shit."
"If anybody comes after you, you use this. You've got 15 bullets. Don't hesitate, 'cause anyone looking for you is gonna kill you. And don't even think about trying to cut a deal by blabbing about the undercover cop," Kris warned, his tone darkening. "'Cause they'll shoot you on the spot and bury your body in the desert right alongside mine."
Adam's fingers trembled under his, long and slender and warm, and Kris jerked his hands away before he dwelled too long on the contact.
He turned his back and stepped to the open window again. "I'll keep everybody inside as long as I can, give you enough time to get clear." Most of the lights were on in the main house now; Carson had roused the rest of his employees, and soon Kris's absence would be conspicuous.
He turned around and found the barrel of his own gun aimed at his chest.
Kris froze. "Adam?" he said quietly.
Adam's hands were shaking badly, clenched around the gun like he thought it might jump out of his grip. He stared at Kris, eyes wild and mouth agape.
"It's okay," Kris said, carefully sidling out of the line of fire and then darting forward to catch Adam's hands and point the gun toward the ceiling.
Adam didn't resist, just made another of those whimpering sounds, and Kris slumped gratefully against the wall next to him.
"It's okay," Kris repeated, taking a few deep breaths and squeezing Adam's wrists. "Breathe, buddy."
"I'm so gonna die."
"No, you're not. You've lasted this long, right? You're not gonna die now, not when there's a cop here to take care of things."
Adam closed his eyes and his whole body shuddered. His eyelashes cast shadows over his pale cheeks, and Kris belatedly recognized the symptoms of shock in Carson's victim. Christ, Adam was practically hyperventilating, and Kris had just shoved a loaded gun in his hands. As if that would make the guy feel any better.
"Are you doing alright?" Kris asked. "How're you feeling?"
"Like I'm gonna puke," Adam admitted. He grimaced and thumped his head against the floral wallpaper. "I've never been so scared in my entire life, not even on stage. I…."
"You've also never been tortured by drug smugglers before," Kris pointed out.
"Definitely not," Adam agreed. "You?"
Kris shook his head, "Only if you count Jimmy's snoring."
"Yeah, that doesn't count."
Kris nodded in agreement and waited, getting his own thoughts in order while Adam regrouped.
After a long moment, Adam said, "I can't even say I never thought this would happen; the guys kept telling me to be careful. I guess it goes with the territory, huh?"
"Yeah, I wouldn't say 'addict' was the safest life choice."
"No, I meant for a rock star. I'm pretty sure it's in the blood contract I signed. You get the sex, drugs, and rock 'n' roll, but you'll probably be killed by your dealer."
"Rock star, huh?" Kris smiled, even though Adam wouldn't see it.
"In the making. If I live through this, I'm gonna be huge."
A breeze stirred, rustling the curtains on the opposite wall, and Kris caught a glimpse of the main house lit up like a Christmas tree, reminding him of his deadline.
He squeezed Adam's wrists again. "I need you to do me a favor."
Blue eyes opened and looked down at him, bloodshot with tears, but more alert. "Okay."
"I need you to make a phone call for me."
Adam stared at him for a long moment and then said, "From the rest stop, right?"
"Yeah," Kris nodded.
"'Cause you don't have phones or cars out here."
"Bingo," Kris said, his mouth quirking down in a grimace. "I need you to call my lieutenant, get her to move on the farmhouse before Carson starts destroying the evidence, covering his tracks."
Adam's eyes widened. "And getting rid of your body," he gasped. "Oh god, when they find out you helped me escape they're gonna kill you! You can't go back there; it's suicide!"
Kris put a firm stop to his panic. "I'll find my own chance to get out, don't worry. You just get to that phone and dial 911, tell them Lieutenant Morse needs to move on Allen's farmhouse ASAP. You got that? Lieutenant Morse, Allen's farmhouse, right the fuck now."
Adam nodded and repeated it back. Kris looked out the window again, and Adam whispered, "You have to go."
Kris nodded grimly. "So do you. Five minutes, and then out the back door. You don't have to take the gun if you don't want to."
But Adam's grip tightened and he pulled the weapon a fraction closer to his body. "No, I…I want it."
"Okay, then remember—"
"Shoot anything that moves," Adam finished, reading his mind. A strained smile flitted across his bruised lips, just a few inches from Kris's own. "And I'll make sure you get it back," he promised, "so you'd better fucking get out of here in one piece."
Kris gave a confident shrug. "I know what I'm doing. I am good at my job, you know."
Adam looked out the window, and then he let go of the gun with one hand and pushed Kris away. "Go, before you get caught."
Kris gave Adam one last look: the guy looked like he was bracing to face a firing squad. And it was Kris's responsibility to make sure the men with guns never showed up. He nodded and slipped out into the night, smelling the creosote blooms on the dry desert wind.
He followed the dark stretch of gravel between the two houses and made sure he didn't look over his shoulder. He didn't spare a regretful glance for the three locked vans lined up in front of the farmhouse, either. Damn Carson for his paranoia and sturdy office safe.
The screen door swung open as he approached, and a familiar silhouette stepped in front of the yellow porch light, stealing the air from Kris's lungs.
"Where've you been?" Alvarez growled.
The lamp flared, burning up a moth with a flash and sizzle.
Kris almost stopped moving, almost reached a hand behind him for the gun that wasn't there. "Sleeping," he made himself answer.
"Carson's been waiting for you," the enforcer said, stepping out of Kris's way.
Kris bit the inside of his cheek, putting together the only possible reason for the big Mexican to be leaving the house. He thought of Adam waiting with a gun he could barely use, waiting because Kris had wasted too much time, because Kris had told him to. He was a sitting duck for Alvarez, and it was Kris's fault.
Alvarez cleared his throat impatiently, and Kris jerked his attention back to the man in front of him. "Come on, then," Alvarez ordered.
There was nothing he could do against Alvarez and a whole houseful of armed men. What the hell had he been thinking, giving up his gun? Kris sucked in a deep breath and put one foot in front of the other.
As he ducked under Alvarez's arm, a heavy hand gripped the back of his neck and squeezed. Kris went still.
"You know he don't like to wait. If you know what's good for you, you'll apologize," Alvarez said in his ear. He squeezed again, and then forced Kris into the house by the grip on his neck.
"Would you stop running your fucking mouth?"
All eyes were on the man in charge as he paced across the threadbare carpet.
Carson jabbed a finger at Jimmy, continuing his tirade. "You fucked up. Plain and simple."
"Just because he claims—" Jimmy protested for the eleventh time in the last twenty minutes, but Carson cut him off with a warning slash of his hand.
"Dominguez vouched for him! And he admits to raising his prices on him. So, maybe it's because I have at least two more decades living in the grown up world, but I don't see what was so suspicious about one of his regulars coming down here to cut out the middle man!
"So tell me again: what the hell were you thinking? Lambert should've filled your quota for the day. But instead, you beat his ass and dragged him back here to me. So now I'm out a potential repeat customer, you didn't even clear twenty grams, and we have a witness to deal with. Great job, Jimmy. That's really great work, there."
Some of the guys murmured in agreement, and Jimmy flushed. He tried to stand up, but Alvarez's big hands forced him back down to his place on the floor at the enforcer's feet.
Kris sat quietly on the corner of the sofa, watching with incredulous relief as Carson's need to publicly humiliate Jimmy did his stalling for him. Another fifteen minutes of this, and Adam would hopefully reach the rest stop. Another ten, and he'd be safe in police custody. It was time for Kris to start concentrating on his own exit strategy.
"So I've decided how you're gonna make it up to us."
"You're gonna pull the trigger on this one."
Jimmy's head shot up, and he looked from Carson to Alvarez looming over his shoulder. "Me?" he squeaked. "Shouldn't he be the one—"
Alvarez gave him another shove, and Jimmy shut up.
Carson crouched down in front of the young man and smiled that oily smile that made Kris's hackles rise. "Yeah, it's gonna be you. You're gonna add murder to all those juvie B & E charges tonight. How's that feel? Not too good, huh?"
Jimmy went pale.
Jimmy'd been part of the crew for nearly a month and half, and Kris had assumed Carson already had claws in the guy, the way he had them in all his employees. Like that outstanding warrant from Arkansas he thought he had over Kris, from that time he'd gone after his girlfriend's ex with a baseball bat. That was why Jimmy's scolding had to have so many witnesses. The execution would probably be done in front of everybody, too. The more they had against each other, the less likely any of them were to make a deal.
Confirming Kris's suspicions, Carson held out his hand, and Alvarez passed over Jimmy's 9mm. The boss turned the gun over in his hands a few times, right in Jimmy's face, and nodded. "And we're all gonna make sure you do it. Aren't we, boys?"
"Yeah, boss," Kris said, echoing the ten men in the room. The way Carson was fondling that gun, it looked like they were getting dangerously close to the murder portion of the meeting.
And the discovering-Adam's-escape portion.
He cleared his throat and said loudly, "Hey, boss?"
Jimmy looked up at him, brown eyes pleading. Kris ignored him.
"You got somethin' to say, Kris?" Carson drawled, East Texas accent lilting over the vowels.
"The guy, Lambert—he had a car, right? Somebody's gonna come lookin' for him eventually, so I was just wondering where Jimmy left it."
"Shit," Carson hissed, standing up. "Where is it?" he asked Jimmy. "Still at the Walmart?"
Jimmy blanched, and Alvarez grabbed a fistful of his curly hair and twisted. "Yeah," he yelped.
"I can go move it right now," Kris volunteered, pushing off the sofa.
Carson glared down at Jimmy for another moment, his mouth twisting angrily. But when he looked up at Kris, his expression softened and he put his temper aside. "Are you kidding?" Carson waved Kris down, shaking his head. "You drove ten hours today. I'm not making you go back out there. Sal, you and Mark take one of the vans and get rid of that car. Here," he pulled a set of keys out of his pocket and tossed them to Sal. "Looks like he drives a Toyota. Al, get them a van."
Mark swore under his breath, and Kris seconded the feeling. Of all the times for Carson to be a standup, considerate boss, he had to choose the one time Kris desperately needed him not to be. Kris reluctantly sat back down.
Alvarez slapped Jimmy upside the head before he stood up and headed into Carson's office.
Sal and Mark got up and stretched.
"I want that car gone: at least a hundred miles from here. Dump it wherever, but make sure it can't be traced back to us," Carson ordered.
"A la verga," Sal muttered, stepping over Balo's thick legs to get to the door.
Alvarez tossed Mark a set of keys a minute later, and Kris bowed his head and listened jealously as the van started up and pulled down the drive.
"And you," Carson said ominously, the toes of his snakeskin boots entering Kris's line of sight.
Kris looked up nervously, wondering what he'd done to shift Carson's mood so fast.
"Don't think I don't know what you were doin'," Carson said, scowling down at the big man on the floor.
Balo gulped loudly, a couple feet from Kris.
"Letting Jimmy grab the guy, letting him bring him back here. You thought it was funny, letting him hang himself, didn't you?"
On the other side of the room, Jimmy's eyes widened.
Balo tilted his head to the side to look up at Carson for two breaths before his shoulders started shaking. "It was pretty funny," he laughed.
"Qué hijo de puta," Alvarez snarled.
"Chinga tu madre," Balo shot back, laughing even harder.
"No, fuck your mother," Carson snapped, pointing Jimmy's gun at Balo's forehead. "Don't think I can't pick up another border runner tomorrow." The gun slowly trailed lower to point at one of Balo's knees. "Let's see how hard you're laughing when los puercos find you bleeding out in Campestre. Will they shoot you on the spot? Or put you in one of those Juárez prisons I've heard so much about?"
Balo stopped laughing.
"You son of a bitch," Jimmy spat.
"Now, Jimmy," Carson said, not taking his eyes off the obese man. "I'll deal with this joker. You worry about your own neck tonight."
On the other end of the sofa, Hector was inching away from the imminent violence. Kris did the same, easing a little further away from Balo. Alvarez smirked at Kris, catching their movements. Kris shrugged and perched on the very end of the sofa, hoped he was out of range of any blood spray. But Willy was trapped squarely behind Balo, his hands buried in his lap to protect his dick.
After a tense moment, Carson twirled the 9mm and stepped back, smiling pleasantly at the big man. "Yeah," he said. "I know what to do with you."
Balo gulped again as Carson had a quiet word with Alvarez. The enforcer nodded, his gaze burning into Balo's skull until Kris was surprised the man's long hair didn't catch fire.
"Since you like digging holes for other people, you're gonna dig one for Mr. Lambert. Six feet oughta do it. You and Al are gonna take a ride tomorrow; I'll give you from sunup to sundown to get it done. And if you wanna come back from your little trip, you'd better be finished by sundown. 'Cause if the heat doesn't kill you, Alvarez will."
"Maybe I'll kill you anyway," Alvarez added, anger still dark in his eyes.
Tomas snickered, "Take that fat bastard down a fucking peg."
"What do you think, Balo? You feel like diggin' one more hole for me?"
Balo made a strangled noise, but nodded and mumbled something.
"What was that?"
"Yes, boss," he repeated more clearly.
"That's what I thought."
While Carson was preoccupied with his self-satisfaction, Kris took another stab at escape. "If we're done," he said politely, "I'd like to get back to bed."
Carson smiled at him but shook his head. "Sorry, nobody's goin' near the guest house 'til Sal and Mark get back. On the off chance one of you feels like doin' Jimmy a favor." He sneered down at his newest employee for a long moment, and then looked at Kris, Hector, and Burt. "The four of you are staying right here tonight. Al's gonna make sure of it."
"Dibs on the couch!" Burt said automatically.
"Fuck you, cabrón, just try to move me," Hector said. He shot a warning look at Kris, too.
"Fuck! Loveseat!" Burt said, recovering quickly.
Kris stayed out of it, concentrating on coming up with a new plan.
Alvarez bent down and whispered in Jimmy's ear. Jimmy started shaking a little, got up on his hands and knees, crawled into the middle of the room and sat there, miserable.
"Okay, we've got a few hours before they're back, so everybody else," Carson jerked his thumb over his shoulder, "sack out upstairs. Now. And that includes you, asshole," he said, aiming that last order at Balo.
The big man rolled slowly to his feet, keeping an eye on the gun in Carson's hand, and moved as directed.
Willy and Tomas went up the stairs first, and the wooden boards groaned and flexed as Balo followed.
Carson brought up the rear, Jimmy's gun still out and ready. “I know I don't have to worry 'bout your fat ass sneaking out tonight, do I?” he taunted.
Alvarez stretched and groaned, sinking into his over-sized armchair, legs sprawling wide and head bowed down. Kris waited until his boss was safely out of sight—and out of hearing—before he stooped down next to the enforcer's chair and asked quietly, "Can I just,” he tipped his head toward the hall and beyond, toward the guest house, “go get a pillow? I'll only be a second."
"No," Alvarez said, drawing his weapon out of its holster. He settled himself and aimed the gun at Jimmy in the middle of the room, ignoring Kris's presence at his elbow.
"Come on, please? This floor's gonna be bad enough for my back…."
"No," Alvarez repeated.
"Here," Hector called, "you can have one of these." He tossed a large cushion from the back of the sofa toward Kris. It didn't quite make it, landing in the middle of the room by Jimmy's knee.
"Thanks," Kris made himself say. He was living with a crew of escape-blocking Mother Teresa's.
"Go to sleep," Alvarez said to Kris, his patience run out. Then he snapped his head to the left to bark at Burt, "Where d'you think you're goin'?"
"I gotta take a leak," Burt said, pointing toward the ground floor bathroom. "What?"
Alvarez looked at him for a long moment and then said, "Use the one upstairs. You're not back in ninety seconds, I'm comin' to find out why."
"Oh for Pete's sake," Burt muttered, running for the stairs. And there went Kris's next best idea for escape.
"I told you to go to sleep," Alvarez reminded Kris, scowling and fingering the trigger.
"Yeah, no problem," Kris said, backing away quickly. He took the pillow away from Jimmy's cautiously-reaching fingers and clutched it to his chest as he looked around the room, trying to pick a spot to wait.
The dilemma was that he wasn't sure what he would be waiting for. Either the chance to slip out of the house while Alvarez was distracted; the slightly better chance of slipping out when Mark and Sal got back, and Carson brought the rest of the guys downstairs; or least likely of all, a police raid—which not only assumed Adam had made it to the rest stop and actually called his lieutenant instead of running home to Albuquerque like a frightened addict, taking Kris's gun with him, but would also put Kris in the middle of a shootout with no weapon.
None of those options sounded promising.
"Sixty seconds!" Alvarez yelled.
"There's a line, man!" Burt hollered back down the stairs.
"Jesus," Hector muttered, rolling over and punching the cushions a bit.
Kris settled for a section of the interior wall just past the loveseat, where he could watch Alvarez's profile and see whether his eyes were open or shut. It was going to be a long night, no matter how it turned out.
As he made himself comfortable on his makeshift bed, Kris announced, "Jimmy, if you snore tonight, I will come over there and beat your ass."
Alvarez gave a rasping chuckle that didn't ease his tightly-wound nerves.
A couple minutes later, Burt clomped back into the room, gun holster in hand, hit the light switch, and shuffled his way to the loveseat.
Kris stared up at the ceiling, watching the porch light's glow filter through the waving curtains.
The dogs started barking a couple hours later.
Kris didn't even notice the first one, used to their whines and cries after months on Carson's farm. But when the second stray started barking, he tensed. The only other sounds were the soft snores coming from Hector and the ticking of the old clock on the mantle. Kris held his breath, straining his ears to catch something, anything.
And then, faintly, he heard something shuffling across the loose stones of the driveway.
That wasn't the sound of a vehicle; those were footsteps creeping up to the house. Adrenaline spiked, and he instinctively slid his hand under the pillow. His fingers found only the scratchy, well-trampled carpet. "Damn," he breathed, relaxing his body to lay prone again. He slowly tilted his head to the right, eyes searching the darkness of the room for any signs of waking.
Hector was still snoring. Burt's hand still hung limply over the side of the loveseat. Jimmy was still curled up in a ball in the middle of the floor, and Alvarez still sat in the armchair, his head tipped back. But Kris narrowed his eyes, stared harder, and caught the direction of the muzzle change as Alvarez shifted his grip. The Mexican's head slowly tilted up, and the gun drifted away from Jimmy, toward the front windows.
The gravel crunched again, closer, and Kris tried to keep his breathing quiet and even. They were almost here, just another minute or two to fan out to the various insertion points, and then…and then the shooting would start.
Kris sat up in slow motion, abdominal muscles flexing as he carefully pulled himself up and tucked himself against the wall behind the arm of Burt's loveseat. He could just make out Alvarez's eyes from here, enough to tell that they weren't looking his way, and Kris risked leaning up to steal a glance at Burt.
Burt's gun and holster were lying on his stomach, nowhere near either hand. If Kris timed it to the start of the assault, he could grab Burt's gun, disarming at least one of Carson's men.
He eased back into the shadows and watched Alvarez's eyes and hand, listening to the silence outside the house and the loud drumming of his pulse inside his head, the clock ticking like a countdown only he and Alvarez could hear.
The porch step creaked.
Kris shifted, got his feet under him on the thin rug. Alvarez's head twitched to the left, toward him, and Kris knew Alvarez was looking at him, even though the man's features were lost in the darkness. He held his breath, nodded to the enforcer as though he were still on their side, slid his hand behind him like he still had his weapon.
Alvarez nodded back and raised his gun toward the front window. "Hector," he whispered. "Despierta!"
Hector snored on.
Kris pushed himself up the wall a few inches to look down on Burt again. He had to move fast. He had to be ready. A board along the side of the house protested the shifting weight of the invaders, and Kris's hand slid across the arm of the loveseat to hover over Burt's shoulder.
He started counting along with the tick of the second hand. Now, now, now, now—
The front door crashed open, and Kris lunged.
The room exploded with a bang so loud and a flash so bright they knocked Kris back on his heels, rubbing at his eyes in agony. Burt rolled off the loveseat and scrambled along the floor to Kris's hiding spot.
Kris gasped and blinked, shook his head as the first gunshot cut through the ringing in his head.
"What the fuck?" Burt screamed, voice tinny in Kris's ears.
Still dazed from the stun grenade, Kris suddenly found himself shoved backward on his ass, out of the protective cover of the loveseat as Burt stole his place. Burt fumbled his gun out of the holster and fired blindly over the arm of the loveseat in the direction of the front windows.
There was another rush of sound, and for a second Kris shut his eyes against another explosion, but it was footsteps, heavy boots running up the stairs to the second floor, more footsteps in the back of the house, and a wave coming through the door to the living room.
"El Paso PD, drop your weapons!" a voice boomed.
Alvarez, Burt, and Hector fired, muzzle flashes like lightning bursts in the darkness, and Kris pushed himself up and tackled Burt from behind, grappling for the gun as he wrestled the bigger man down.
Burt kicked and yelled, and the cops returned fire, guns roaring and bullets splintering wood all around the room. Kris punched Burt's wrist until the gun flew free, and then rolled him onto his stomach, using his legs for leverage to pin Burt with an arm wrenched up behind his back.
"Get off me, man, what the fuck!" Burt yelled, bucking under him. Kris held on, wrenching his arm up higher. Burt screamed, loud and long, and Kris had to shut him up before Alvarez realized what Kris was doing. He let go, pushed Burt's head down with one hand in his hair, and then dropped his elbow on the squirming man's temple.
Burt went limp under him, and Kris caught his breath, kept his head down as the firing continued. Peeking under the loveseat, he could just make out the shape of big boots in the doorway, inching in and falling back. Why didn't they turn on the lights, for god's sake? Upstairs there was more firing, more footsteps—some loud, others quieter from socks or bare feet.
Hector cried out, his gun falling silent, and suddenly the exchange of fire paused. Kris squinted, tried to make out what was happening. Another barrage of shots echoed upstairs. He heard shuffling in the doorway as the boots inched in again, Hector groaning on the couch, and Jimmy whimpering against the far wall, defenseless.
And Alvarez…. Kris caught the soft slide-snap of his reload and his breath caught in his throat.
Alvarez was crouched behind the armchair, gun ready and waiting for SWAT to get a little farther into the room, to give him a better target.
Kris had a perfect shot; he could take out Alvarez now, before he killed anyone. He could, if he had a gun.
Burt's .45 was a lumpy shape on the dark carpet, three feet into unprotected space. Kris licked his lips and prayed for his brain to switch back on before he did something even stupider than handing Adam his gun three hours ago. But Alvarez was still armed, still a threat, and he wasn't going down without taking one of Kris's fellow officers with him.
"Drop your weapons now," the voice repeated.
Hector groaned louder, and Kris heard the sound of boots shifting as the officers pivoted toward the couch.
Now, Kris thought, hand reaching out into the line of fire, but Alvarez moved quicker.
The enforcer spun around the corner of the armchair and fired once, twice, before the SWAT team responded, their answering shots knocking Alvarez to the floor.
"Face down, now!" one of the officers barked in Kris's direction.
Kris slid off Burt and put his face to the carpet, hands on the back of his head. Boots marched across the rug, kicking the guns away from Kris and Alvarez. Hector gave an aborted scream, and then a knee came down on Kris's back, hard. "Clear!" the man over him shouted.
"Clear!" came the response from the kitchen.
"Downstairs clear! Lights coming on!"
Somebody flipped a switch, and the lamps turned on, painfully bright after the dark gun battle. Night vision goggles thumped heavily on the floor next to his shoulder, and Kris looked past them to see Alvarez sprawled out on the carpet, thick red blood oozing from three holes in his chest, unblinking eyes pointed at the ceiling. Kris stared at Alvarez's body for a long moment, unable to believe that the man was finally dead.
The officer's knee shifted, pressing hard on his kidney, and Kris hissed, biting back his protests. He could smell the gun oil and sweat on the man pinning him down, and he didn't dare move a muscle too soon. He concentrated on the sounds upstairs as the raid continued.
After another few seconds the shooting stopped, and a voice called, "Clear upstairs!"
"Clear downstairs! Building's clear!"
And then more footsteps entered the room. Kris twisted his head around to look for the members of his taskforce, but he didn't recognize any of the three SWAT guys, or the two DEA agents swaggering in wearing black jackets and loafers. One of them started reading Hector his Miranda rights, ignoring the cursing he was doing. Kris laid still and waited his turn.
The knee eventually eased up and off, and then hands were dragging Kris's wrists behind his back, into the cold embrace of steel cuffs, and a DEA agent said, "You're under arrest. Hey, is that guy dead?"
"Nah, just unconscious," the SWAT guy cuffing Burt replied.
"Good. Good job. You have the right to remain silent," the agent continued, standing and dragging Kris up by his wrists.
Kris arched awkwardly to ease the painful torque on his shoulders as he scrambled to his knees, panting, "I'm El Paso PD, undercover. Detective Kris Allen with the Stash House Initiative. My lieutenant is Gwen Morse."
"Oh, shit! You're the cop!" the agent exclaimed, abruptly letting go. Kris sagged in relief, leaning against the loveseat as the agent backed off.
"Hey, Rob, I got this," a new voice said.
"This is the cop they're looking for!" Rob said, sounding excited.
"Yeah, why don't you call it in? I'll take it from here."
And then a big hand swept under Kris's chest, helping him climb to his feet, and fingers fumbled with the cuffs around his wrists.
"Are you okay?"
Kris ignored the question; compared to Alvarez and Hector, he was just peachy. "I'm Detective Allen, El Paso PD. Lieutenant Morse should be here—"
"Your team's hitting the other house; they'll be here in a minute," the voice said, and Kris glanced over his shoulder at the tall agent, and then spun around to face him, taking in the black DEA jacket and the bruises on his face.
"Oh!" he blurted.
"Yeah," Adam smiled, reaching up to flip the bangs off the gauze patch on his temple. "Now turn around, unless you wanna be wearing those cuffs the whole way home."
"Like I said," Adam shrugged, a twinkle in his good eye, "not a cop."
Of all the times for semantics…. Kris opened his mouth to give Adam a piece of his mind, but Adam took his arm and firmly turned him around.
"Yeah," Adam continued, his hand sliding down Kris's arm to circle his wrist. "DEA. Out of Albuquerque. Sorry."
“Would it've killed you to tell me?”
“It might've. You could've been trying to trick me.”
“I gave you my gun,” Kris protested. Adam could've saved Kris a good three hours of worrying about him if he'd known Adam could handle himself—and handle Kris's weapon.
“Which was possibly the most heroic thing I've ever seen. Just so you know.”
Kris's spine stiffened at the tease, but Adam gave a reckless-sounding laugh and slipped the cuffs off his left wrist, finally letting Kris face him.
Adam smiled, vibrant and open, and said, “I have a bit of a crush on you right now.”
Kris blinked at Adam as the agent caught his right hand and went to work on the second cuff. Jimmy was being escorted out of the room, and Agent Rob and the SWAT officer were standing over Alvarez's body, arguing. Time suddenly slowed down, the countdown that had started seven hours—no, six months ago—finally switched off, and Kris took a deep breath and sagged against the wall behind him.
"Are you okay?" Adam asked again, squeezing his fingers.
"I'm okay," he nodded, the tension in his shoulders unwinding. They were both okay. Except…. "Shouldn't you be in the hospital?"
"I needed to make sure you got out alright." Adam grimaced, "When you didn't call in, we thought…."
Kris pushed away the remnants of his tightly-controlled panic at each failed escape strategy and said, "I'm okay, really." Adam looked hard at him, as though double-checking that Kris was telling the truth, and Kris met his gaze until it slowly dawned on him that Adam was just standing there, holding his hand. He shook his wrist to get Adam working again.
"Good," Adam said, flashing another smile. The key slid into the lock and released the cuff. "I've got something for you." He tossed the empty cuffs on the loveseat and reached into his jacket, pulled Kris's gun out of his shoulder holster. "I'll get you a commendation later, but for now, this'll have to do."
Kris took his gun and slipped it gratefully into the back of his jeans, where the polymer and steel, still hot from Adam's body, pressed into his skin, as intimate as a hand on the small of his back.
"Buy me a beer later," Kris said, his first genuine smile in months working its way across his lips, "and we'll call it even."
Extra thanks go to my killer posse of Spanish-speaking volunteers who fixed my babelfish-fails: mountingsnow, gabs14, bellaofthecats, and catalm. Thank you thank you thank you, guys!